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A STORY AfiOUt A REAL MAN                                                                  237
Alexei's face fell. He felt that everything was about
to collapse. The surgeon scrutinised his case card and a
look of amazement spread over his face.
"Amputated feet-----   What's   this?   Nonsense!   This
must be a mistake, eh? Why don't you answer?"
"No, it's not a mistake," said Alexei softly and very
slowly as if he were mounting the scaffold.
The surgeon and the other members of the commis-
sion stared suspiciously at this sturdy, finely-built and
vivacious young man and could not understand what was
the matter.
"Turn your trousers up!" the surgeon commanded in
an impatient tone.
Alexei grew pale, glanced helplessly at Zinochka,
slowly rolled up the bottoms of his trousers and stood
despondent, with his hands at his sides, exposing his
leather feet.
"Have you been trying to make fun of us, or what?
Look at the time you've wasted! Surely you don't think
you are going back into the Air Force with no feet, do
you?" said the surgeon at last.
"I don't think, I'm going!" answered Alexei in a low
voice, his dark eyes flashing with stubborn defiance.
"With no feet? You're crazy!"
"Yes, I'm going to fly with no feet," answered Alexei,
no longer defiantly, but calmly. Out of the pocket of his
old-style airman's tunic he drew the neatly folded clipping
from the magazine. "Look," he added, showing the clip-
ping to the surgeon. "He flew with one foot. Why shouldn't
I be able to fly with no feet?"
The surgeon read the clipping and then looked up
at Alexei with surprise and respect.
"Yes, but you must have a hell of a lot of training to
do that. This man trained for ten years. You've got to
learn to use your artificial feet as if they were real/3 he
said in a milder tone.
At this point Alexei received unexpected reinforce-
ments. Zinochka fluttered from behind her table, put her
hands together as if in prayer, and flushing so furiously
that beads of sweat stood out on her temples, she twit-